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The Plastic People of the Universe - Pasijové hry velikonoční/Passion Play CD (album) cover


The Plastic People of the Universe



4.02 | 18 ratings

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4 stars I've really know idea whether the Plastics were religious people; there's little indication from their music other than this record, and not a whole lot of personal information about them in the various articles, interviews and texts that have been published about them. Which leads me to wonder if the band composed and released this album as simply another way to push against the Communist regime occupying post-WWII Czechoslovakia. If so, I think that makes yet another case for the Plastic People of the Universe being the ultimate RIO band, considering this part of their career was marked by performances ranging from Velvet Underground covers to Frank Zappa tributes to Alan Ginsberg poetry to apparently a theme album dedicated to the story of the cruxification of Jesus. Pretty ballsy stuff.

These songs were reportedly recorded in a barn on the farm of playwright and poet Václav Havel in the fall of 1980. Havel was a huge supporter of the band; he would go on to become president of Czechoslovakia and would bring the band out from the underground by inviting them to perform at a huge concert in the very hall used as a police barracks during the Soviet era, but at the time he was in the first year of a five year prison term at the hands of those same police. The Plastics were still banned in 1980 from performing in public after having lost their artistic performer license and been arrested several times over the years for staging unofficial 'festivals' and covert appearances. I've read that the Czech state police surrounded the barn during the recordings to ensure the band did not use the occasion to hold yet another live concert.

The music itself takes a while to get going, with the first several minutes consisting of rather sparse percussion, a little brass and guitar noodling, and disjointed vocal rambling. All the vocals are in Czech so I have to believe the story being told is actually that of the Passion, although I suppose I could be wrong on that point.

Once things start to pick up on "Zhře?il jsem", the Plastics sound really begins to emerge. Vratislav Brabenec has a unique style of dissonant saxophone playing that pays tribute to his influences from everything from the beat generation to the Fugs; I'd like to think I could pick his playing out of just about any recording regardless of who he was playing with. He really dominates the rest of the album from this point on, along with Jan Brabec's drums and percussion and bandleader Milan Hlavsa's dirge-like bass and passionate vocals.

The band shows both their Zappa and jazz leanings with the final two tracks, both typical Plastics compositions that ramble on for a combined twenty minutes consisting of heavily improvised and jazzy instrumental passages centered on Brabenec and Hlavsa but accented with sporadic vocals that are often spoken rather than sung, and snippets of strings thrown in for variety.

This isn't my favorite Plastics album and the first time I heard it I was a bit disappointed by the first ten minutes or so considering there was actually very little music and I thought it was going to turn out to be nothing more than a poetry work set to a minimalist arrangement. But after several listenings I can see that this is yet another solid performance by the band, and as usual under almost unthinkably difficult conditions.

This record has been issued on CD at least twice that I know of, and copies can be found at a reasonable price although you may have to look a little. This was a follow-on to 'Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned' and 'Jak bude po smrti' and I'd recommend you listen to it in that order. Four out of five stars and recommended to any Plastics fan as well as anyone who is truly interested in discovering some of the great music that flourished during the waning days of the Soviet era.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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